GREENFIELD — In a bright pink sweatshirt, Barb Feeney stands out among the dark browns and greens of camouflage decorating Highsmith Guns.
She grew up in rural New Palestine; her father was an avid hunter, and rifles were a common sight.
As a young mother, she didn’t want guns in the house.
Today, she feels differently. Her seven children are grown and gone, and the Indianapolis neighborhood she and her husband, Dan, call home seems scarier than ever before.
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Recently, they visited the Greenfield store to buy a gun, hoping it would give them some peace of mind.
The number of Hancock County residents seeking a handgun license is on the rise, with many who visit local police departments for an application saying they want a weapon for personal protection, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.Records from local police departments show the number of county residents who applied for a handgun license rose from 1,212 in 2014 to 1,587 in 2015 — about a 30 percent increase — keeping staffers at each department busy while helping process the applications, officials said.Now, more than 10,700 Hancock County residents – approximately one in every five adults – possess one of the 661,300 firearm licenses currently active across the state. And those numbers are ever-changing, according to the Indiana State Police.
That data doesn’t reflect the overall number of weapons-owners, however. State law allows residents to purchase a handgun, shotgun or rifle without a license; paperwork is necessary only if the gun-owner wishes to carry their handgun in a public place, according to the National Rifle Association.
As the new year approached, hundreds of people flocked to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department to turn in an application for a firearms license. In December, a record 240 people applied, compared with 68 in December 2014.
Increased interest in gun ownership puts a strain on department staff who handle license applications. Front office staff field walk-ins regularly throughout the day — often as many as 15 per day, said administrative assistant Amy West.
Each visit takes five to 10 minutes per person, longer if the person’s application is improperly filled out or has blanks, West said.
The department rarely gets letters alerting them to a rejected application, West said. State records show only 54 Hancock County residents were denied a firearm license in 2015.
Crime and talk of changes to federal regulations seem to be at the forefront of residents’ concerns when they come into the department seeking a license to carry a gun, Shepherd said.
Trained and ready
The first question Shane Highsmith asks a customer walking into his Greenfield gun shop is simple and straightforward: Why do you want to buy a gun?More and more often, the answer is for personal safety, Highsmith said. His growing customer base is now packed with people who recently obtained a license to carry a handgun in public places and are now looking for a gun that will bring them comfort.Handgun sales at the store skyrocketed over the holiday season, he said.
At the same time, participation in the basic firearm safety classes the business offers has increased, Highsmith said. And those lessons appear to be filled with new permit-holders, he said; people who have gotten their permit, bought a firearm and want to know how to use it.
“It’s like buying an instrument,” Highsmith said. “You can’t just buy a guitar, and now you’re a musician.”
Among the first-timers is Barb Feeney, who said she wants to be prepared should she have to use her gun in an emergency.
She enrolled in the firearms class at Highsmith Guns to learn the basics about her handgun, which she and her husband expect to keep in a safe in their home.
Other county residents said they’re more comfortable keeping their weapon at their side at all times.Jacob Steinmetz of Greenfield started carrying a firearm as soon as he turned 18 and was old enough to have his handgun license.Steinmetz, now 21, carries a gun on his hip because the world is too unpredictable, he said.
He has great faith in local law enforcement, but it can take police minutes to arrive in a time of need; pulling a trigger to stop someone dangerous takes only a second, Steinmetz said.
Shepherd shares Steinmetz’s sentiment. Officers will always come when called, but Shepherd understands residents’ desires to safeguard their homes and families.
“I want people to be able to protect themselves until police arrive,” Shepherd said.